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Patriotic Article
By Van E. Harl

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I Wanted to be a Navy Corpsman
(February 19, 2010)

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With my father being a Navy Master Chief and living on Navy bases, when my friends got together to play “war” we did not play Army we played Marines. There were always Marine kids living in my neighborhood.

This was in the early 60s and there had been a show on TV called Combat. One of the regular characters was “Doc” the Army medic. “Doc” was not allowed to carry a gun but he was always in the thick of the battle with the rest of the guys in his squad. I wanted to be “Doc” when we played Marines, only in the Marines the medical person is not a “medic” as in the Army, he is a Navy Corpsman.

Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

My dad gave me a cigar box and my mother helped me fill it up with band aids, tape and gauze rolls. This was my first real first-aid kit. Now I was “Doc” when we played war and I even got to use some of the band aids when kids got scraps and cuts. I was so mad at my mother because she gave me a bottle of iodine for the first aid kit but I was not allow to put any of it onto a actual wound. I was hooked-I wanted to be a real Navy Corpsman.

The Navy trains its Hospital Corpsmen at Great Lakes Naval Base, about forty miles north of Chicago, Illinois. I was back in the area visiting my parents and drove over to the Navy Base. There were Corps School students marching all over the “hospital-side” of the base.

While I was at my folk's house I was looking at some old paperwork from ninth grade. A school counselor had written down that I wanted to be a Marine when I finished high school. But he was not listening when I had actually told him I wanted to be a Navy Corpsman attached to a Marine infantry company.

My father was on an old Navy ship that was going to be scrapped. He brought home a small, water tight, ship board first aid kit that was headed for the trash. I still have that kit and just keep refilling it with supplies as needed. When my father was stationed at Great Lakes, the Vietnam War was on and a lot of new Corps School graduates were headed to the jungles of that country with the Marines. The US is in another shooting war and the demand for Navy Corpsman is extremely high. I spoke to Captain Theresa Gee NC USN, who is the Executive Officer for the Corps School and over sees the training of in excess of 4000 new Navy Corpsman every year. “Approximately 80% to 90% of the newly trained Corpsman will be headed to an assignment with the Marines” advised Captain Gee. The rest of the new Corpsman will go to Navy shore assignments or out to sea on their first ship.

Things have changed in the military medical world since WW II when doctors, nurses and corpsman were not allowed to carry a weapon. The old Soviet philosophy of “shoot the chaplains and medics first–it helps demoralize your enemy” had a lot to do with US military medical personal receiving ground combat training and being issued a weapon when they went to the field. They can only defend themselves and their patients, but it is a far cry from the days when the Japanese shot every unarmed Corpsman that came into their rifle sights.

One thing you will not see in this war is a Red-Cross arm band on anyone. It only gives the Muslim extremist something to aim at. The Corpsman career field is the most combat-decorated in the Navy they have twenty two Medal of Honor recipients. More US Navy ships have been named after Corpsmen than any other Navy rating. One of the men raising the flag at Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima was John Bradley, a Navy Corpsman.

On many ships and in remote operating locations the Corpsman is the only trained medical help for a Sailor or Marine. On the back of the shirt of a Corpsman killed on Guadalcanal, written in his own blood by a wounded Marine were these words “where Angels and Marines fear to tread, there you'll find a Corpsman dead.”

I never became a Navy Corpsman but my respect and admiration has only grown over the years. Corpsman-up, thanks “Doc” and thanks to the new breed of Corpsman–the men and women who stand between death and their patients and win the medical battle.

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2007

About Author:
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.

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